By Riem Higazi
Musicals. Are you a lovah or a hate-ah? I am a lovah. Not all musicals but most. Yeah. I said it. So what? Fight me.
When my American stepmother came into my life when I was eight years old, she brought with her a deep appreciation and love for the Hollywood MGM musicals of the so-called Golden Age and she shared her love for such films as „Singin’ in the Rain“ and „West Side Story“ with me and this really bonded us as mother and daughter.
When I was 12, my Bonus-Mother (I’ve never liked the term stepmother and the evil connotations it has thanks to old fairy tales) gave me a coffee-table book with photos and text, a biography of Golden Era musicals legend Fred Astaire. Inside was a dedication, “Riem! I dance with you in my dreams! Love, Freddy”. It seriously took me like a full 5 years to clock that my Bonus-Mom had written that herself and that ‘Freddy’ was in fact NOT pining to dance with me, in dreams or anywhere else. You can imagine both my and my Bonus-Mom’s delight when I had the opportunity to participate in „Dancing Stars“ a few years ago and my dance partner Dimitar ‘Mitko’ Stefanin was aptly compared to a young Fred Astaire. I freakin’ loved that.
public domain / Tanzschule Kraml
In high school in Scarborough, a part of Toronto, I was a featured player in a few of the school’s musical production numbers but never in the role that I wanted, always in a role that my theater teacher gave me due to the way my body was - tall and of a sturdy build, and the way my face was — earnest and slightly mustachioed.
I played the mean orphanage directress Miss Hannigan in a version of ‘Annie’, a tree in ‘The Wizard of Oz’, and the actual Wiz in our high school’s production of The Wiz, the Michael Jackson/Diana Ross-led, 1978 Black version of ‘The Wizard of Oz’. Having the titular role in ‘The Wiz’ wasn’t due to my singing prowess (not good) or my dance moves (very not good) but only came down to the fact that I was the tallest in the class at that point and had what I remember my drama teacher telling me was a ‘menacing look’. No playing li’l orphan Annie for Riem Higazi.
I know every word to every song of ‘West Side Story’. Same goes for the original ‘Wizard of Oz’. I hated the film version of ‘Les Misérables’ and never really liked ‘Les Misérables’ on the stage either mainly because it was so misérable.
Which reminds me why I came here in the first place. Whether you are a hater or a lover of musicals, there’s a new series on AppleTV+ that will appeal to everyone: „Schmigadoon!“.
The musical extravaganza is the long-time passion project of writing partners Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, a duo best-known for writing scripts for massive hit DreamWorks films like Despicable Me and The Secret Life of Pets. The six-part series follows couple Josh and Melissa, played by Keegan-Michael Key and Cecily Strong, as they find themselves lost on a couple’s hiking retreat. They somehow find their way to very colourful town both in set design, costume, and in casting, where the people seem to be performing a 1940s-esque musical number for them. It is a tongue-in-cheek nod to the 1954 American Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musical Brigadoon.
Aside from the storyline about the definition of true love, ‘Schmigadoon!’, in all its absurdist glory, brings a very healthy sense of humour with regards to the suddenly breaking-out-in-song silliness of old-school musicals, and with its ethnically diverse cast, it brings a wokeness to a genre that was for the absolute most part, dominated by white and straight representation.
There was the seminal 1954 Black Broadway hit „A Raisin in the Sun“ and „South Pacific“ and „Miss Saigon“ but in those musicals, the ethnicities were pitched against each other or isolated as was definitely reflected in the times in which these musicals were made.
Moving forward to the nineties, you had such productions as „Rent“ and then just six years ago, the smash-hit „Hamilton“ where there was diversity in not just the story but in the interpretation of the story and not as a tool of divisiveness but of unity.
„Schmigadoon!“ follows in that vein and it isn’t just right to have equal representation, it works.
Produced by (long-running American comedy sketch show) Saturday Night Live’s Lorne Michaels, starring an assortment of SNL stars like Cecily Strong and Fred Armisen, bigtime Broadway stars like Kristen Chenoweth and Ariana DeBose, and stars of TV and the big screen like Alan Cummings and Martin Short, the series is, whether you love or hate musicals, a most welcome distraction from the woes of the current world. The series makes fun of itself while paying tribute to the beauty of simply breaking out in song and dance every once in while.
I was delighted to speak with its director Barry Sonnenfeld who was once the cinematographer for the Coen brothers before he started directing major Hollywood blockbusters such as the „Men in Black“ trilogy. I loved hearing Mr. Sonnenfeld explain how he managed to film a 4 minute dance and song sequence in one take so the interview is a delight for those who love or hate musicals and for film-nerds too!
„Schmigadoon!“ is Schmigacool and highly recommended if you need to take a Schmigabreak.
Publiziert am 13.07.2021